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Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010
Hippolyta requires only perfection of the player. How elegant is that?

Last week I extolled the elegance of the shotgun in video games (Elegance is a Shotgun”, PopMatters.com, 17 March 2010).  As a tool, it rather perfectly fits into a definition of the quality of elegance as something simple, basic, and efficient.  The only real complaint that I received about this observation is that the shotgun is a weapon in games that tends to make play easier.


Now while I do think that being “easy” in some ways only furthers my point (after all, being simple and being easy are concepts that are often synonymous with one another), I do have to admit that in gaming the most elegant games are often highly complex and difficult to master, maybe in spite of being easy to learn.  Go or chess are games that, on the face of them, are elegant and simple in terms of design and the ability to teach someone the basics of how to play, yet these are games whose ability to master is not exactly “easy” to accomplish.


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Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010
The funniest thing about Dante’s Inferno is that the only people who will really enjoy the game are the fans of the poem.

Dante’s Inferno is not a game for someone expecting to experience a precise reading of the poem. Video games and linear storytelling don’t get along very well, and unless you’re dealing with a genre built around delivering content, the plot is always going to remain in the background. An interview with the game’s Creative Director, Jonathon Knight, at Gamasutra explains their approach, “The Divine Comedy is a three part piece that’s 14,000 lines, and… there’s a lot going on there, and I think the game is clearly taking the top couple of layers of that, but it does not go deep into the more theological, or philosophical, or what-have-you elements of the poem. Ultimately the game is this gateway into Dante’s vision of Hell, but it’s not meant to replace a reading of the poem, obviously, which is much more sophisticated” (Christian Nutt, “The Road To Hell: Creative Direction in Dante’s Inferno”, Gamasutra, 5 February 2010). Knight explains later that they wanted to rely more heavily on the unique ability of video games to create a sense of place by having the game be a brawler but featuring elaborate setpieces to break up the fighting. Since the game relies heavily on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation of the poem, I’ll be citing that translation for this post.


Boiling down the first book of the Divine Comedy to its surface elements is a bit trickier than it sounds because you either think the poems are about three stages of the afterlife or that they’re about Dante’s spiritual transformation as he grapples with accepting God’s authority. Dante himself wrote in a letter to Can Grande della Scala, “The subject…of the whole work, taken literally, is the condition of souls after death, simply considered…But if the work be taken allegorically, the subject is man, how by actions of merit or demerit, through freedom of the will, he justly deserves reward or punishment.” (172) Given that the game re-imagines Dante as a Crusader who wields Death’s scythe, who can absolve damned souls to Heaven, and who can shoot super spirit crosses using a crucifix, it seems safe to say that the game is not taking the literal approach to the poem.


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Monday, Mar 22, 2010
The inaugural episode of the Moving Pixels podcast, a discussion of video games and culture.

Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Moving Pixels Podcast.  For the initial editions of this new feature at PopMatters, we will be hosting a mini-series of sorts.  A number of regular contributors to our Multimedia Section and the Moving Pixels blog here at PopMatters, G. Christopher Williams, Rick Dakan, Nick Dinicola, and Thomas Cross, will be spending the next six weeks discussing the topic of storytelling in video games. 


For our first episode, we decided to look at “The Role of Story in Video Games,” focusing our discussion on the history of story in video games and how gaming has been transformed over the past few decades in light of narrative becoming an almost inseperable part of the game enthusiast’s experience of the medium.


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Friday, Mar 19, 2010
The loyalty missions are the primary means of character development for most of the characters in Mass Effect 2, giving us a detailed look at what each of them holds most dear in life.

Mass Effect 2 has a large cast to say the least: ten crew members in the normal game, one more in downloadable content, and a twelfth to be added in more DLC in the future. As with any story with such a large cast, it can be difficult to find the time to fully develop each character into someone interesting. Mass Effect 2 takes a smart approach to this problem by giving players optional side quests tailored to each character. These “loyalty missions” are the primary means of character development for most of the cast. The Normandy is going on a suicide mission, and everyone onboard knows that. These loyalty missions show how each character comes to terms with their past and is able to face death without remorse. In some cases, we must earn a teammate’s trust. In others, we must help them fix a past mistake, but whatever the case, we’re given a detailed look at what each of them holds most dear in life.


Since the game has such a large cast, and in the interest of keeping this post at a somewhat manageable length, I’m going to split it up. This week I look at the missions concerning Miranda, Mordin, Thane, Tali, and Zaeed.


Tagged as: mass effect 2
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Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
A real world fashion designer finds the Project Runway Wii game pretty lacking: "The life has been sucked out of me. I came in with all this energy and now I'm just sad."

I will admit to one and all an inordinate fondness for Project Runway. Along with Top Chef, it’s one of the few reality shows I watch. What I love about both shows is that they focus the spotlight on skilled and talented individuals who are actually making things with both their hands and their imaginations. I can’t sew a button, and while I can cook along with a recipe well enough, I’m not inventive or inspired in the kitchen. I appreciate the contestants on these shows because they’ve got demonstrable, difficult to acquire talents.


Any developer setting out to simulate a creative endeavor through an accessible-to-all video game faces a steep challenge. Certainly you can’t expect players of Project Runway on the Wii to create patterns and sew them together from scratch; there needs be some measure of metaphor involved, and I’m fine with that. Even so, I decided that maybe I wasn’t the perfect judge for such a product. After all, while I watch the show, I prefer my games to involve guns or magic spells. I decided to call upon the expertise of a friend of mine, a real world fashion designer who even studied design at Parsons, the school where the show’s contestants do their work. She wishes to remain a little anonymous (you never know when the vengeance of Heidi Klum et al might strike down upon you), so we’ll call her Ms. C.


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